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Bombs for Children

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Your son wants a G.I. Joe, and you're displeased? Take him to see Toys, a modern day fable about play and innocence triumphing over violence and paranoia. You'll both love the movie, and he may lose his desire for military playthings.

The surreal setting of director Barry Levinson's film is the Zevo toy factory. There the unusual is commonplace and employees "play" at their jobs rather than "work."

Paradise is threatened, however, when the founder dies and leaves the factory to his brother (Michael Gambon), a general in a mid-life crisis because of defense cuts and the loss of the Soviet threat. The paranoid general soon plans Nintendo-generation high-tech low-budget weapons to fit the new economics. His new weapons have the shapes of toys but the souls of killers. He secretly begins transforming the Disneyland-like factory into an armory.

Robin Williams shines as the holy-fool son of the late founder. His comic child-like purity finally sees through the dangerous folly and saves the toy factory from his uncle's militarism.

The obligatory happy ending, however, even for a fantasy, lacks believability. Furthermore, the final prolonged battle among the toys jars the film's playful atmosphere and might be disturbing to very young viewers.

In spite of its flaws the film is a wondrous, enchanting, and joyful visual feast. An expanse of rippling green wheat fields surrounding the whimsical factory, rooms painted to look like the sky, and constant visual surprises give the movie a subtle cinematographic spirituality to undergird its ethics.

A brilliant satire of military thinking, the film includes ludicrous security measures culminating in army officers who meet together in their underwear to avoid being bugged. The general's son (rapper LL Cool J) praises compartmentalized military food trays and camouflages himself as, among other things, a wall and a sofa.

Toys is a marvelous morality play for the post-Cold-War era.

Copyright 1993 Mark D. Stucky.
Published originally in The Mennonite, February 9, 1993.

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